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Extremely loud and incredibly close


The Storytellers. Narratives in International Contemporary Art. Ed. Selene Wendt. p.74-77. Stenersen Museum, Oslo, Norway. 2012


I can’t imagine a more suitable reference to Mónica Bengoa’s work than the title of Jonathan Safron Foer’s critically acclaimed novel. Although there is no real connection between Foer and Bengoa, no thematic parallels, nor significant underlying meanings, these words insist on being appropriated as the title of this chapter. The colour and the scale of Bengoa’s work is, in fact, extremely loud, and her visual vocabulary is meticulously crafted from an incredibly close perspective.

Bengoa is renowned for her large-scale wall installations that are highly indebted to process-oriented art and craftsmanship. For The Storytellers, Mónica Bengoa presents her new installation Einige Beobachtungen über Wildblumen: Bienen-Ragwurz (Ophrys apifera) und Schachblume (Fritillaria meleagris) or Some Considerations on Wild Flowers: Bee Orchid (Ophrys Apifera) and Chess Flower (Fritillaria Meleagris). This work is a mural of pierced felt executed strictly in varying shades of red and orange. Using her camera from an extreme angle, Bengoa takes a close-up photograph of a page from an encyclopedia, and recreates exactly what the camera has captured, including the variances in blurriness and focus. The end result is that some letters, words and images are completely obscured whereas others are perfectly clear.

This installation fits beautifully into The Storytellers context, particularly in terms of the relevance of the encyclopaedia throughout history as the single most important boo for learning about topics ranging from history and culture to philosophy and science. Of course, the words and pictures in an encyclopaedia do not tell stories, they convey facts, something that may seem at odds with the premise of The Storytellers. Although I do know more than a few intellectuals who methodically read them as if they were novels, encyclopaedia can hardly be classified as literature. Nevertheless, an understanding of words as defined in encyclopaedias and dictionaries is an absolute necessity for authors and readers alike, integral to absolutely all literature, poetry and prose.

Taking a step back to discover the details in Mónica Bengoa’s installation, I am struck that her approach to words and language involves an inherent deconstruction of meaning in the translation of factual scientific words into abstraction. The blurry traces of text and letters read as distorted words that speak loudly about the transition from written to visual language. Ultimately, Bengoa’s larger-than-life encyclopaedia captures the power of knowledge to change our perspectives of the world we live in, in this case, as specifically related to science and nature.

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